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General Back Exercise Guide

Purpose of Back Exercise Rehabilitation

Your back is composed of a number of muscles that help bear the weight of your torso. Some of the major muscles in the upper and mid-back include the latissimus dorsi, the trapezius and the infraspinatus muscles. Exercising the back keeps helps maintain your posture, bear your weight and helps you bend down, walk, run and other physical movement. If you're recovering from surgery or illness, back exercises help maintain spinal joint function and rotation. After back surgery, back exercises help increase circulation and heal the hip joint.

Benefits of Exercise and Physical Therapy

  • Range of motion
  • Strengthening
  • Increased endurance
  • Increase function and mobility

Range of Motion

  • There are two types of range of motion exercise:
  • Active - Performed by you
  • Passive - Performed by a physical therapist Perform exercises as instructed by your doctor or therapist, depending on your condition and strength.

Exercises for the Back

While you may not be able to perform individual joint range of motion exercises on the back, you can work to strengthen muscles, tendons and ligaments of the entire back through some motion exercises that will work the entire spine and muscles supporting it. A cat stretch will loosen and lengthen all the muscles in your upper and mid-back, and provide stress and tension relief. Get down on your hands and knees on the floor. Tuck your chin toward your chest and arch your back, as if you're trying to touch your back to the ceiling. Pull in your abdominal muscles and tuck your pelvis under. Relax, allowing your back to return to its former position.

Strengthening Back Exercises

Follow instructions or guidance by your doctor or physical therapist before engaging in strengthening or weight-bearing exercise, especially following illness or surgery. A good way to strength your back muscles are to perform strengthening exercises with light dumbbells. For example, a rhomboid pull works all the muscles in the upper and middle back. Grasp light dumbbells in each hand. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder distance apart. Bend your elbows and tuck them close to your sides, forearms parallel to the floor. Pull the elbows backward, as if you're trying to touch them together. Squeeze the shoulder blades together. Hold, then release and repeat.

Flexibility Back Exercises

Flexibility helps keep your back strong and limber. You can do flexibility exercises while sitting, standing or lying down. When possible, use exercise tools like resistance bands or tubes to help with stretching and flexibility exercises. When stretching, only go as far as comfortable. Your range of motion and flexibility will increase with practice. For example, keep your back loose and limber by performing forward bends. Stand with your feet shoulder distance apart and slowly start rolling your shoulders in drawing them forward and down. Place your hands on your thighs for added support if necessary. Exhale and pull in the lower abdominal muscles for added lower back support. Slowly lower your torso until your hands touching the floor and hold that position for several seconds. Using only your stomach and back muscles, lift your body back into an upright position.